Monday, January 15, 2018

Echidne Thoughts on Arrogance, Online Fights And Taking Saunas

1.  My new year's resolution is to become more arrogant.  You know, like most writers out there.

2.  There are very good reasons why I would be a terrible feminist activist and why my activism is largely based on analysis and writing.  I derive zero enjoyment from watching or from participating in  the never-ending battles* about how to do feminism right.  In fact, they frighten me, because I'm a wimpy goddess.

I also believe that clarity is not what comes out of those online fights, but mostly just a lot of name-calling.  Even when the name-calling is deserved, it will not result in the kinds of changes the callers want to see, because humans don't work that way.

Whether analysis produces any more clarity can naturally be debated, but I'm more comfortable with it, even knowing that no analysis can ever be completely neutral and that all analysis is moored to the particulars of the experiences and position of the analyst.   But at least it uses more than a few hundred characters and, ideally, links to sources and, also, ideally, develops each strand of arguments in greater detail. 

Says she, arrogantly.

3.  This New York Times article summarizes many recent papers about the way women fare in the economics profession.  I have not read the original papers, but I did write about the economics jobs site which teems with woman-hating comments.  If you are a young woman entering the occupation**, you will not feel particularly welcomed by many voices on that site.  Then all you can do is hope that your future work colleagues don't hold those same beliefs!

This might be the place for one of my hilarious (?) economist stories.

When I was a student, I won a three-year doctoral scholarship from a private foundation in Finland.  Two men were also awarded one-year scholarships by the same foundation.  There was to be a celebration dinner for the awarding of the scholarships, and because I hadn't yet received the scholarship money and was broke,  I had to borrow both the money for the trip+hotel room and the dress I was going to wear at this festive occasion.  But I was so excited!  And happy!

The celebration dinner went as such dinners usually go.  When we were having the dessert course, the organizer told us that the program for the rest of the evening was a communal sauna!!!

I have to stop here for a moment and tell you that whatever you may have read about the Nordics and their penchant for naked saunas and group sex, communal saunas are not coed between strangers.***   On the other hand, people do usually go to the sauna naked.

So I hear this announcement and look around me and, for the first time, realize that I am the only woman present.  The Echidne-brain went into an overdrive:

(How am I going to cope with this?  There's no way I can take a sauna with all these guys naked.  Why is the organizer doing this to me?  Was he just oblivious?  His face looks like that, stunned, as if he is seeing me for the first time.  But is that the real reason or is he trying to signal me that I'm not that welcome?  Or what? 

Now he proposes that I go first, all on my own, while the guys have beers and network with each other.  But then I have to wait, all on my own, while the guys have a sauna together and network with each other, because  I'm sharing a cab with one of the other scholarship winners to the hotel and I don't have enough money to get one on my own or know anything about the buses and it's late at night.)

I ended up suggesting that I skip the sauna (so that nobody needs to wait for little me!).  The organizer proposed a nearby bar for a nice place for me to wait.  It was the kind of bar where women on their own are viewed as part of the menu.  But I survived.

Was that a hilarious story or what?  A nothingburger?  I'm not sure how I then viewed it, to be honest, but it taught me an important lesson:  My road forward would be bumpier than the roads of the other two scholarship winners, even if I did everything right.  


*  This doesn't mean that the debates wouldn't be about important questions, only that the format of the online debates is almost the exact reverse of what would be required for some progress to come from them.

By "required" I mean putting lots of people into one room for a long period of time, demanding that they listen to all opinions with the willingness to withhold initial judgement and so on, to allow for several rounds of clarifications and questions.

The online format tends to make people more entrenched in their initial emotional stances, perhaps, because it is so very good at the short quips category which rewards anyone able to pull emotional strings of all kinds, from anger to fear and more and because it rewards piling on without it seeming to be piling on.  I also suspect that for some participants the others on the net don't come across as real humans with feelings.

For an example of what I mean, though not a full-blown example, have a look at the comments to this article on Jezebel.  The comments thread does contain a lot of nuance and information which is important for truly interpreting the topic of the article, but reading through it also gives us a large sample of comments about ageism in both directions and of the hurt or anger of people who have been assigned certain beliefs largely because of their age. (Though the article doesn't directly refer to age but to the second wave of feminism, women who were part of the second wave are now considerably older than, say Katie Roiphe.  Even Daphne Merkin might be too young to have been part of the second wave proper.).

**  And even more so if you are a woman belonging to a racial or ethnic or sexual minority, because that site is rife with all kinds of bigotry.

***  Neither are they for sex.  It's far too hot.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thanks, Senator Feinstein. The Glenn Simpson Interview Transcript

I couldn't sleep last night so I read the transcript of the Glenn Simpson interview, all 300+ pages of it.  Despite its soporific value, I still couldn't sleep!

Glenn Simpson is the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm which carried the opposition research on Donald Trump, first for an unnamed Republican client and, after the Republican primaries, for an unnamed Democratic client.  It's his firm that the British Chris Steele, an ex-M16 agent, worked for as a subcontractor.  Steele is famous for the Steele dossier.

Simpson was questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) published the interview transcript yesterday.

It has some interesting bits, over and above the ones which the Washington Post covers. 

First, where does Trump's foreign income come from?  Simpson states that he found published evidence on Trump's connections to both Italian organized crime and to at least one Russian organized crime figure,  Felix Sater.  But Simpson also established that Trump's golf courses in Scotland are giving a poor return for his investments, and he couldn't establish all the sources of Trump's foreign income. 

Then there is this (p.296):

Second, Steele's interactions with the FBI are fascinating.  He contacted the FBI to "fill them in" on the dossier he had collected and had at least one additional meeting with them.  But then something odd happened (pp 178-179):

Finally, though I am not qualified to evaluate the veracity of Simpson's statements, none of what he says contradicts what I have read in published sources.  The only odd bit (perhaps caused by some legal strategy?) is that he appeared to be very unsure of the exact timing of most events.   But the usual caveat emptor applies.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Daphne Merkin's Misgivings on the #MeToo Phenomenon

Sexual harassment at work is a form of labor market discrimination.  As long as some workers must endure it but other workers (of the same ability and productivity) do not have to endure it, the latter will face less stress at work and are more likely to persevere long enough to get raises and promotions.

Even harassment by a colleague at the same level of work can make the work environment unpleasant and difficult for the target of the harassment.  If the harasser is a boss, the imbalance of power means that the consequences of refusing his (or her) attentions can include revenge, and some of that can take an economic form.

That we are fundamentally discussing job discrimination is an important point when interpreting, say, Daphne Merkin's recent New York Times opinion piece.

And what exactly are men being accused of? What is the difference between harassment and assault and “inappropriate conduct”? There is a disturbing lack of clarity about the terms being thrown around and a lack of distinction regarding what the spectrum of objectionable behavior really is. Shouldn’t sexual harassment, for instance, imply a degree of hostility? Is kissing someone in affection, however inappropriately, or showing someone a photo of a nude male torso necessarily predatory behavior?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

My Stable Genius

This post is a response to the following tweets from our Dear Leader

Here is my answer:

I am a stable genius, though a girly one so that I cannot say I am a stable genius.  That would be very arrogant.

I stand on a tightrope on one tippitoe, arms raised above my head and twisted into a yoga knot.  I take cube roots out of large numbers in my head and then smile, benignly, at the adoring masses far below my tightrope.  Because I am stable.  And a genius.

I am a stable genius.  I just invented a car with extendable stork legs.  They appear at the press of a button (a very large button, the largest button), and then the car rises far above other cars (like a genius car) and hops over them in rush hour traffic.  The Stork Car can also be parked above other cars in parking lots.

It will be clad in airbags on the outside.  They stop other cars from attacking it, and if any of the bags deflate, poisoned arrows will come out of it, whistling in the air until they find the offending car and its driver.  That is stable, in a world where a dog eats a dog and a man eats a man and yellow hairdos are the sign of great geniusness.

I stand on my hands, doing pushups, while reciting my old blog posts in ancient Sumerian.  That is because I am both stable and a genius.

Every morning I look into my magic mirror.  I ask her: Who is the most stable?  I ask her:  Who is the most genius?  I ask her:  Who is the most divine?  I ask her: Who has the yellowest hair in the best wind-driven shape?

And the mirror stays silent, because it is not a genius.  But I know.  I know!  Only I can know, because I am a stable genius.

Stable geniuses do not have to learn, do not have to listen, do not have to think, because they already know everything!  And the giant pile of all that learning does not teeter, does not shake. It stays stable inside our vast brains.

Donald and I are alone in this agony.  We are the two stable geniuses, and the world does not listen, little people ridicule us, tell us that real stable geniuses don't say that they are geniuses or that they are stable.

But how would those who have little brains know?  How would they know?  Hmh?

Now our divine anger flares and consumes all doubters.  Now our little tweeting fingers get busy!  Now our wrath rains on the unbelievers.

But we shall win at the end, because we are the greatest.  Well, Donald is the greatest man ever.  I am divine, and that is even better, even more stable and even more genius.

Friday, January 05, 2018

The Trouble with Kirsten Gillibrand!

Is the same as the trouble with Hillary Clinton, quite accidentally and for no particular other reason:

The larger question about Gillibrand, though, is whether she is too transparently opportunistic to be a viable candidate after the rejection of another New York politician criticized for basing her positions on supposedly canny calculations rather than on from-the-gut convictions.

That is Ciro Scotti at the Daily Beast.

Criticizing politicians for their policies is to be recommended.  Criticizing politicians a specific way only because they are women is problematic.  For instance, how often have you seen a male politician criticized for selfishness?  Yet here are a few more quotes about Gillibrand:

For Gillibrand, nearly every move seems to be a self-serving playing of the angles. While it’s not surprising to see a politician behave this way, Gillibrand seems to be an especially egregious practitioner of the finger-in-the-wind politics that so many voters can no longer abide.  

But one thing seems clear: Those denunciations and their timing were all designed to be right for Kirsten Gillibrand.

So what do we have here?  Gillibrand is selfish.  Gillibrand is not authentic ("canny calculations rather than from-the-gut convictions").  Gillibrand is a weather vane who changes her policies based on what works for her.

When you put all those together it's hard to think of a similar article about a male politician, but several about Hillary Clinton.  As Madeleine Aggeler points out at the Cut:

All politicians are opportunistic; it’s practically a job requirement. But Scotti falls back on the same old, tired, lizard-brained and misogynistic argument that people used against Hillary Clinton: That ambitious women are off-putting.
The sample size is yet too small, but I'm collecting information to see if female politicians, when turning into "too" powerful, get the Hillarization treatment, and what that treatment might consist of.  There is a pattern. 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

More Trump Gifts To His Base: A Lump of Coal For Christmas

Coal miners were extensively used in Trump's campaign speeches.  They may or may not have voted for him, but coal mining is what Trump promised to resuscitate in the US:

President Donald Trump spent much of his campaign promising to bring back coal, an industry that he said then-President Barack Obama had demoralized with too many regulations. So in July when Trump declared at a rally that he had created 45,000 coal jobs since the start of his presidency, many coal miners rejoiced.

The only problem seems to be that number was nowhere close to true. In fact, since the beginning of Trump's presidency, just 1,200 coal-mining jobs have been created, according to monthly reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the 1,200 coal jobs during Trump's presidency thus far are just 100 more than were created between August and December 2016 under President Obama.

Place all that against this news:  Coal mining deaths are higher in 2017 than in 2016, and the Trump administration is considering these regulatory changes:

Last month the Trump administration brought up for review standards implemented by Barack Obama’s administration that lowered the allowable limits for miners’ exposure to coal dust. MSHA indicated it is reconsidering rules meant to protect underground miners from breathing coal and rock dust — the cause of black lung — and diesel exhaust, which can cause cancer.
So if the coal miners got a lump of coal in their stockings this Christmas, who is it who received real presents? 

The wealthiest one percent of Americans and corporations*. 

Corporations are now people (thanks, Citizens United), and it is the mining corporations which benefit from relaxed health regulations, just as it is the industries which benefit from a rollback of disability rights or from reduced use of fines  to stop negligent nursing homes from harming their residents.

All that red regulatory tape that has now been cut just may have held together the health and well-being of some workers and consumers.  But they are not Trump's real base.

* As was made very clear with the enormous tax "relief" the richest among us got from the Republican's tax "reform."

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The First Conspiracy Theory of 2018: The Storm

Remember PizzagateSomething equally tasty is baking in the ovens of the right-wing rumor mills:

A new conspiracy theory called “The Storm” has taken the grimiest parts of the internet by, well, storm. Like Pizzagate, the Storm conspiracy features secret cabals, a child sex-trafficking ring led (in part) by the satanic Democratic Party, and of course, countless logical leaps and paranoid assumptions that fail to hold up under the slightest fact-based scrutiny. However, unlike Pizzagate, the Storm isn’t focused on a single block of shops in D.C., or John Podesta’s emails. It’s much, much bigger than that.
The eye in the middle of this "Storm" is that famous 4chan site where woman-haters, neo-Nazis and similar nice folk get together and chat over tea and biscuits:

On October 28, someone calling themselves Q began posting a series of cryptic messages in a /pol/ thread titled “Calm Before the Storm” (assumedly in reference to that creepy Trump quote from early October). Q claimed to be a high-level government insider with Q clearance (hence the name) tasked with posting intel drops — which he, for some reason, called “crumbs” — straight to 4chan in order to covertly inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state. It was, in short, absolutely insane.
Let's see.  Q is supposed to be a high-level government insider.  Q is supposed to have the equivalent of top secret clearance.  Yet Q uses 4chan as the site to which he or she will release extremely secret material.  And Q writes sentences like these:

False leaks have been made to retain several within the confines of the United States to prevent extradition and special operator necessity. Rest assured, the safety and well-being of every man, woman, and child of this country is being exhausted in full.

Rest assured, nobody with high-level security clearance writes that poorly.  On the other hand, I do see that type of writing in the phishing attempts where someone tries to pretend to be from PayPal or "your administrator."

It's very sad that disproving any part of the conspiracy will have no effect on the true believers.  We urgently need better basic education in this country, including the basic rules about how one judges the truth of various assertions.

Beginning-of-the-Year Post: How Echidne Would Rule This Globe

If I were the dictator of this planet my long-term policies would be these:

1. Address climate change.  It may well be the case (as this dismal article about our likely future argues) that humans are simply not psychologically equipped to cope with the large short-term costs of trying to ameliorate it.  But the alternative truly is too dismal.  I like reading dystopian science fiction.  I don't want to live in it.

2.  Address the funding of  economic development in poor countries.  That means real money expenditure, real attention to curbing corrupt governments and elites from taking all the money, and real emphasis on education.  I'm an education fanatic, because I believe it is the one thing which will work best in the longer run.

As with the attempts to slow down climate change, the short-run costs of these policies are likely to be large and include, for example, the prioritizing of education over many other urgent needs.  But the alternative here, too, is dire, and includes vast floods of migrants who leave areas without any employment opportunities but also who do not have the education to be gainfully employed in the countries they try to reach.

3.  Reduce population growth.   This is no longer a popular goal for either side of the American political aisle.  But I believe it is absolutely necessary if we are to have less climate change and space for all the other animals and wilderness, too. 

One argument that has recently become popular is that the earth can house many more people if only all of us agree to live very frugally forevermore.  From that angle it is the wealthiest twenty percent (us) who should cut back on our excess consumption, and that, indeed,  is desirable from the climate change control angle. 

But the eighty percent who are less wealthy don't want the rest of us to become equally poor; they want to become as wealthy as we are, to own SUVs and computers and so on.

To enable all people on earth to have an equally high standard of living we simply must become fewer than we are right now.  And cutting back on fertility is a far kinder way of achieving that goal than the alternatives:  War, famine and disease.


Many of the current violent conflicts have at least some of their roots in conflicts over resources, and resource conflicts are created by a mismatch between the size of available resources and the number of people wanting them.  Climate change affects agricultural resources.  Thus, all three of the above policies Echidne-The-Dictator would impose would also reduce the likelihood of warfare.


4.  Maintain a focus on human rights and economic equality.  There are signs which suggest much less emphasis on human rights, including the equality of men and women.  The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for 2017 shows, for the first time since the reports were begun, a widening of the gap between men and women.  Progress seems to have stalled in some key areas and in a sufficient number of countries to affect the overall figures.  

The election of Donald Trump and the strong whiffs of dictatorship coming from Russia, Turkey and Hungary also suggest a retreat from human rights and from relative economic equality.  Austerity politicians in many European countries are like mice gnawing on the strands of the social safety nets and I see no progress toward creating such safety nets in other parts of the world.

This last policy matters, not only because I believe in its basic values, but because it interacts with the previous three policies.  Increasing economic opportunity in the poorest countries must not mean the development of a small, rich and powerful local elite, at the expense of everyone else.  If that is what happens, the migrant flows will not stop.  

Likewise, ignoring girls' rights to a childhood and education will cause the education initiative to fail.  Early marriage, for example,  handicaps girls for life, because it limits their ability to acquire skills for the labor market.  Early marriage is also likely to result in unequal marriages and large family sizes.  

The custom of early marriage is at least partly based on the view of girls and women as largely reproductive and sexual resources, to be bartered between families.  A focus on women's human rights makes that less likely and also supports the population control initiative, because more educated women have fewer children.


I am not the dictator of this globe and these policies will not be pursued, of course.  But I think the world would be a better place if I ran it. Mmm.